16 December 2019, The Tablet

Murdered priest had abused father and son


The Bishop of Beauvais did not remove the priest from ministry until last year.


Murdered priest had abused father and son

Archbishop Jacques Benoit-Gonnin
Photo: Église Catholiqe dans l'Oise

Two more cases of clerical sexual abuse have added new twists to the series of accusations that gnaw away at the image of the Church in France.

The murder of an elderly priest last month has slowly brought to light a sordid story of the priest's sexual abuse of the suspected killer and his father. The Bishop of Beauvais in northern France has been dragged into the scandal.  

Fr Roger Matassoli, 91, was found dead on 4 November at his home near Beauvais, choked by a crucifix stuffed down his throat. There were also multiple blows to his body. A 19-year-old suspect named Alexandre was soon arrested but has been held in hospital because he appeared delirious.

A month later, the suspect’s father told a newspaper the priest had abused him years ago and still influenced him as an adult. Matassoli later abused Alexandre and had him clean his house while naked.

The father, given the pseudonym Stéphane by the daily Le Parisien, said the abuse had worsened Alexandre’s mental problems. 

Stéphane’s own father – Alexandre's grandfather – took his life on learning his son was abused and Stéphane has attempted suicide himself. “This man has shattered a whole family,” he told Le Parisien.

Bishop Jacques Benoit-Gonnin of Beauvais diocese admitted after the murder that he had not removed Matassoli from ministry until 2018. In his official statement, Matassoli said the abusive priest "had no more parish duties" from 2009. However this was because 2009 was his normal retirement date. The bishop then said he "took measures to remove him from public ministry". He didn't give a date for the removal from ministry in the statement, but it was clarified later in questions that he was actually allowed to remain in ministry, although in retirement, for another nine years.

The bishop finally removed the multiple abuser after hearing from the two victims. The bishop also later admitted in an interview that two other victims had spoken up and he was sure there were more.

Both Church and civil authorities knew about Matassoli’s abuse but their inquiries never led anywhere. The bishop failed to explain why. 

Successive bishops compounded the problem. One bishop claimed to have warned Matassoli in the mid-1990s, without contacting the police, and informed his successor about the problem in 2003. That bishop denied ever hearing of abuse cases from his predecessor. 

Benoit-Gonnin said a written accusation against Matassoli in 2002 was apparently filed by mistake in the wrong archive. 

In another abuse case, the Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem community has appealed to possible victims of its founder Fr Pierre-Marie Delfieux to come forward after a former nun published a book accusing him. 

Author Anne Mardon spent eight years with the community and says she was under the spell of Delfieux, a former chaplain at the Sorbonne who died in 2013. The community, founded in Paris in 1975, includes centres at such prominent locations as Mont Saint Michel, Vezelay and Rome, where it is based at Trinità dei Monti church above the Spanish Steps.  

It has communities in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Poland. The current prior has vowed to expose the dark pages of the community’s history. 

In Lyon, ground zero of the scandal, an online petition for Cardinal Philippe Barbarin to resign has surpassed 100,000 signatures, prompting the priest who launched it to close it at 110,579.

Barbarin, whose resignation was refused by Pope Francis last March, will learn on 30 January if his appeal against a suspended sentence for non-denunciation of an abusive priest is upheld. Petition author Fr Pierre Vignon said the appeal was useless because "Philippe Barbarin has already lost his trial in the court of public opinion”.

 


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